Another Right Answer

A Trinity sermon from Sabbath worship at Southminster in Boise, Idaho.

May 30, 2015

Isaiah 6:1-8

John 3:1-17

Welcome to Trinity Saturday, which is where the lectionary writers punish preachers who had so much fun last week on Pentecost Sunday by foisting upon us today the most complicated and obfuscating texts and expecting us to make the Doctrine of the Trinity clear for each of you.

Just kidding.

I won’t make it clear.

And, as we begin, I’m going to cite the great church father, Augustine, who said, “If you comprehend something, it is not God.”

The doctrine of the Trinity is not supposed to be easy or simple. God is a mystery far beyond our ability to understand. So, give yourself permission to be flummoxed. And remember, it took the church four hundred years and many church councils to come up with this doctrine, to struggle over this.

Trinity is the attempt by Christians to understand how God is ONE, as the scriptures testify, (Deut. 6:4) while at the same time explain how Jesus, the Son of God, is also God. How does THREE equal ONE?

You hear Trinitarian formula in worship all the time,
Father, Son, Holy Spirit;
Creater, Redeemer, Sustainer;

Trinitarian language is grounded in Scripture, even if the Doctrine is not explicitly spelled out in Scripture. (2 Cor 13:13 “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”)

I have preached other sermons that explore the doctrine of Trinity in more depth, and you can dig through the blog to find those, but tonight I want to worry less about doctrine, and more about the consequences of it. Meaning, I’m less interested in you espousing the correct doctrine. Arresting people for heresy may be fun on a slow day, but it isn’t what we’re called to do.

Alas.

I’m less interested in you passing an exam on doctrine and I’m more interested in you living your faith in a way that reflects an understanding God’s Trinitarian love. On Trinity Saturday, we hold up the idea that God exists in community and God made us to exist in community.

Trinity also means God exists in diversity. The very nature of God is diverse. Creator. Redeemer. Sustainer. Spirit. Word made flesh. That God exists in unity does not mean that God exists in uniformity. Since God exists in diversity, we are expected to seek out diversity as well.

And it is one of the reasons we join together in worship, why we gather in community. Christians proclaim we are made in the image of God. Which means we can look around the room and look around the world, and in our differences, we can catch a glimpse of characteristics of God’s diversity.

While we are made in the image of God, God is not made in the image of us.

And that is why I am thankful for passages like this one from Isaiah.

“I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew.”

What?

I don’t know what any of that is about any more than you do. I’ve never met a seraph. I can’t explain it, (although I am sure you could find someone on the internet who will. Don’t do that, btw).

The Isaiah passage should not be read as a literal map to get you to God. It is a creative act of divinely inspired imagination to point us to the truth that God is so much more than we can imagine. It points us to God being bigger than could fit in a temple, and grander than we could dream up, and worthy of awe and worship. Isaiah reminds us not to let go of the mystery.

Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts.

It isn’t the only answer for the question of God, but it is one answer about God. Another right answer.

Nicodemus had another right answer about the question of God too.
Nicodemus was a leader of the Jews, we might call him an elder or a deacon perhaps. He is trying to make a statement of faith about who Jesus is:
“Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”

Because of his position in his community, he is at some risk by making this claim, this claim that Jesus is somehow connected to God in ways that the rest of us are not.

Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone.

This is the claim of Judaism. God is one.

And so Nicodemus comes at night. To claim that Jesus is somehow God too.

Henry Ossawa Tanner Jesus and Nicodemus

Henry Ossawa Tanner
Jesus and Nicodemus

But none of it makes sense to him. And he doesn’t have the language or the perspective to understand what Jesus tells him.
‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’
He doesn’t know how to fit this new right answer in with what he was taught in sabbath school.

How can this be?, he asks.

I’ve been thinking this week that so much of our job as people of faith is to keep a sense of wonder about us, asking these questions as Nicodemus does. We need to be willing to see things from other perspectives, through other lenses, so we can add to what we know of the mystery of God.

We must acknowledge that the truth we know of God, the way we experience God through the living out of our faith, is not the only way people experience God.

DeWitt Jones is a National Geographic photographer. He has said that for every photo shoot in a magazine, of about 30 pictures, he takes 14,000 images.

And not because 13,000 of those images are wrong. But because he needs to see that many perspectives to find the right ones for the magazine.

Watch this:
(starting at 53 seconds)

Our unique perspectives will cause us to see things from different angles. The gift of community is, in part, sharing those perspectives with each other, so together we can find another right answer.

(At this point in worship, I invited people with smart phones or tablets to take pictures from where they were standing, from their current perspective, of the church and her people. If they didn’t have a camera, they were invited to join in with a neighbor and make it a group project. After they took pictures from where they were standing, they moved around the sanctuary and took more pictures.
Then they posted them on either facebook, twitter, or instagram with the hashtag #SPCTrinity and a member of the church collected all of those images and we showed them during the offering and during communion. Check out the hashtag from your favorite social media and follow along at home!)

And as we go out into the world this evening, let us remember to look for the extraordinary in the ordinary and trust God’s mystery will meet us there.
Amen

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